I need a haircut and when I need a haircut I go see Mr. Barber.
That is not his real name. His real name is Peter Vodovoz and he runs the Mr. Barber of Chicago shop at 200 E. Walton. His shop is no salon, it’s a barber shop; a fact punctuated by its straightforward slogan: We make you handsome.
Peter learned his craft in his native Russia, from which he emigrated in 1991. He arrived in Chicago with $1 in his pocket, but thanks to some cousins who put him up and fed him, he went to Truman College, learned to speak English and started cutting hair and giving shaves at the Drake Hotel.
In 2000 he opened his own shop on Oak Street—and a couple of years ago a few block over to Walton Street.
Through word of mouth, Vodovoz has built a long list of loyal clients, including some big names from the worlds of sports, business and politics: Bill Daley, Ernie Banks, Tom Dreesen.
Among the biggest names was Rod Blagojevich.
Peter says: “Yes, he had a lot of hair, but cutting it was easy.”
Vodovoz lives in the suburbs with wife, Stella, and daughter, Emily, a fine student and swimmer with Olympic aspirations.
After Rod’s troubles began Peter says, “Many, many people call and come in here looking for information about him. What does he talk about? Does he have secret meetings here? I have been offered money to talk to these people. I have been offered money for pieces of Rod's hair. I turn all of this down because I have respect for my customers."
The bond between barber and customer is an enduring one; the shop a shelter of sorts. Find someone who does right by your hair and knows when to keep his or her mouth shut, you stick with them for keeps, through marriages and hangovers, birthdays and bankruptcies, life's ups and downs.
Peter’s shop is open seven days a week.
After one of Rod’s last haircuts, he paid with a $35 personal check and inscribed a photo: “To the best barber an ex-governor could ever have.”
There is, of course, no such thing as barber-client privilege. For Vodovoz, it's a matter of trust.
Vodovoz says, “My customers have a right to know I don't talk about them behind their backs. Yes, some are rich and famous but I am the one living the American dream. I work hard, ever since I come here. I have my business and my family and my house in the suburbs where there are trees and peace. I know many of the troubles that some of my customers have, but that is nobody else's business. What we talk about, we talk about here and no place else."
So, what did he and Rod talk about? Vodovoz says, "Many things, but I am always telling him, `God bless America'."